The race is officially on in the NHL Pacific Division. All but the Arizona Coyotes are alive in playoff race and, at this point, could find a way into the dance. On this wonderful Christmas afternoon, we’ll take stock of each team and where they currently stand in the standings.
So, pour some eggnog, sit back and relax.
Vegas Golden Knights (48 points): Thanks to playing three less games than LA, the Golden Knights are currently the top team in the division. To the shock of many, they are in this spot on merit and look like a surefire playoff team this spring. As of now, Vegas is firmly entrenched in the playoff race and I believe needs to change their plan.
I’m sure GM George McPhee had dreams of first round picks for rentals dancing in his head, but now I don’t believe it is out of the realm of possibility that Vegas will not only keep key pieces like David Perron and James Neal, but potentially add as well.
Things literally could not be going any better in Vegas.
Los Angeles Kings (48 points): Good health and a bounce back season from Anze Kopitar has the Kings in prime position to return to the playoffs after missing the dance a year ago. Jonathan Quick is back to his old self, while the team’s defensive group is as stingy as ever.
Much like Vegas, LA is firmly in the playoff race and these Kings look like a surefire playoff team. In order to take things a step further, LA will need to find another offensive weapon. Jeff Carter will be back at some point, but even his return may not be enough to propel LA deep into the dance. At least they’ll get there this time by the looks of it.
San Jose Sharks (42 points): Here is where things get interesting. San Jose is as close to LA as they are to Edmonton. With six points separating the Sharks from second in the Pacific and the edge of the playoff race in both directions. I can’t get a read on San Jose, mainly because they have been inconsistent for most of this season.
Logan Couture should be back soon, but San Jose is going no where until Martin Jones gets back on his game. He’s struggled mightily as of late and has cost the Sharks some valuable points in the standings. The good news? San Jose won a big one in regulation against the Kings heading into the Christmas break.
San Jose should once again be a playoff team and I suspect they’ll look to add another offensive piece in the coming weeks. Failure to miss the playoffs would be catastrophic for this organization considering the age of their core group.
Anaheim Ducks (40 points): It’s kind of amazing to see Anaheim here all things considered. I’m not sure another team in the league has been ravaged by injury quite like this group, that has simply found ways to win. As the Ducks get healthy, they become an even more dangerous group to deal with. I suspect Anahiem will shoot up the standings in the new year, and I think this team is in a pretty good spot.
The downside? Goaltending is still very much a question mark for this group while the Ducks have played more games (37) than just about everyone behind them, including a few teams I believe are simply better even when the Ducks are healthy.
Bob Murray is an aggressive GM, so don’t be shocked to see Anaheim make another move or two here in the New Year. The Adam Henrique deal is already paying off in a big way.
Calgary Flames (39 points): Save for their neighbors to the north, there isn’t a more disappointing team than Calgary in the NHL right now. The Flames went all in with the acquisitions of Mike Smith, Travis Hamonic and Jaromir Jagr this summer, but it feels like none of those moves are paying off. Smith as been decent, but I don’t believe he has been an upgrade on the Brian Elliott/Chad Johnson tandem of one year ago.
Jagr has been in and out of the lineup all year and really hasn’t had an impact when playing, while Hamonic looks completely lost in a top-four role with the Flames. Calgary’s defense has been a major let down, while the offense really isn’t producing outside of the dominant top-six group Calgary has.
Things aren’t as dire as they are in, say, Edmonton, but the heat should be on this Calgary team right now. They are under performing and making a fool out of themselves in arena negotiations.
Much like the Ducks, I suspect the Flames will be pretty aggressive in terms of movement in the New Year. I seriously wonder if someone like Evander Kane is their target, or perhaps Mike Hoffman in Ottawa. Either way, this team has been disappointing all year and should be in a state of urgency.
Edmonton Oilers (36 points): As recently as a week ago, the Oilers were nine points out of the playoffs and looking completely dead in the water. The club had been playing much better since American Thanksgiving, but the damage appeared to be done and this club looked on its way to the most disappointing season in franchise history.
The Oilers have won four straight games, jumped the Vancouver Canucks, and now sit just four points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand on Anaheim. Not only that, but Edmonton essentially controls its own destiny considering they basically still play everyone in front of them multiple times (sans Dallas).
Peter Chiarelli still needs to add a scoring winger and a backup goaltender, at least, to help this team move forward. I suspect urgency will be the name of the game for this group in the next few weeks, and I wouldn’t be shocked if a trade or two happened right after the roster freeze.
Things aren’t nearly as dire as they were a week ago thanks to Edmonton’s recent run, but this has to continue for the club to have a chance. For the first time in months there is optimism, although cautious, surrounding this team.
Vancouver Canucks (35 points): Vancouver certainly isn’t out of it, only five points back of a wild card spot, but things look dire on the left coast. Vancouver has bee truly horrible (2-7-1) in their last ten games as the injuries begin to mount and the goaltending gets ugly.
The future is bright for this Canucks team, and that is where the focus should be. This isn’t a playoff team this year, but Travis Green is a very good young coach and Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Ben Hutton and Jake Virtanen form a nice young core to build with.
It’s time to look to the future in Vancouver.
Arizona Coyotes (21 points): Speaking of looking to the future, that is exactly what the Coyotes should do. Sell off every veteran asset you can and keep pushing for a better day. The Coyotes have a plethora of good young players in the system and should be able to get a few picks and prospects for their arsenal around the deadline.
This season has been a complete disaster in the desert, no question about it. The only way for a silver lining is to play the young kids, let them develop and hope for a franchise talent via the draft.
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